Most Canadians do not have first hand experience in dealing with prolonged exposure to the excessive heat, humidity and sun because of the Northerly geographic location. This is why it is critical to understand what Heat Stroke or Exhaustion is, as it is something they may experience either personally or by witnessing, while travelling in Southern vacation destinations or in airports and planes when they return home.
The first critical thing which you need to understand is that symptoms of heat stroke can develop quickly, within minutes. This means a person who seems perfectly fine one moment can be in a serious health situation very quickly, so it is paramount you recognize what is occurring so you can provide appropriate medical triage. It is also important to understand that the effects of sun stroke can be accumulative, meaning that or over several hours or days a person may deteriorate, after their exposure, so you may not immediately link the event, with their recent travel.
Internally, the symptom of someone suffering from heat stroke, is their core body temperature climbing to above 40C (104° F). This brings on specific symptoms you need to ask them if they are experiencing, if they are able to communicate with you. Often times a person is so confused, or experience such sudden onset, that they are unable to speak or even lapse into unconsciousness as their body tries to shut itself down, to cool off.
The person may either feel nauseous or vomit without warning, they may be dizzy or have an immediate headache. They may experience muscle cramping and intensive thirst. They will have a rapid heart rate and will either break out into a full body sweat with radiating heat or their skin may be dry and incredibly hot. You may see someone who dazed, confused and have reducing degrees of responsiveness. It can be scary to witness.
It is imperative you respond quickly and calmly as this is a life threatening condition and medical emergency. You must rapidly lower the person’s core temperature. Your first course of action is to advise others of the situation and request assistance. If you are in the sun, get them to shade. If you are outside bring them into air conditioning or have others fan air over them. Remove all unnecessary clothes from them.
Apply ice cold compresses to their neck, back, armpits and groin as these are areas rich with surface blood vessels and by cooling them, it can help reduce their body temperature. The second the cloth is warm, replace it with another, colder one. If they are responsive, make them drink anything with electrolytes, like a sports drink, a pedialite, a fruit drink, coconut water or lastly water. If a sugar tablet is available which many diabetics carry, make them take it.
Being in hot Southern destinations places you at risk for heat stroke as temperatures routinely climb over 26C (close to 79°F). Laying out in the sun and walking along the coast lines exposes you to the direct heat and sun, so you have to mitigate your risks and understand that there are many factors which can lead towards Heat Stroke.
Older adults, infants and young children up to the age of 4 have a harder time with heat regulation which places them higher at risk as they adjust to temperature changes more slowly. People with a mental illness, who are over or underweight, who have chronic health conditions such as Diabetes, heart, high blood pressure, lung or kidney disease, are at particular risk for sun stroke, so knowing or asking about their medical background helps in diagnosing what’s occurring to them.
Dehydration can be brought on by participating in physically strenuous exercise in the sun, like beach volleyball. It can be exasperated by consuming alcohol at the all Inclusive resorts or by getting a sunburn by not applying sunscreen in a timely fashion. Even wearing tight and restrictive clothing, like compression stockings many people use for traveling on planes can be problematic. It is also extremely important to understand that certain medications, such as antihistamines, anti-psychotics, beta-blockers, diuretics, and even recreational drugs, all increase the chances of having sun stroke.
Someone who has never had an issue with prior travels can have a sudden onset reaction when all of the risk factors are considered. Getting them cool is critical. Often, by quickly reacting to lower their core body temperatures, you can bring them around to feeling almost fully recovered within 15-30 minutes, though there are times it may take longer depending on how many risk factors they have. It is imperative they report what occurred to their family Doctors, once they arrive home, if they were not taken to a hospital for monitoring.
For further details on Heat Stoke and Sunstroke and to find a First Aid class which teaches first response measures, please visit your local EMS provider or take a St John’s Ambulance First Aid Course and get certification. It can save a life.